Lois Snead’s remarkable 95 years — and counting

By Kay Wilson

Special to the Rappahannock News

Lois Snead is celebrating her remarkable life of 95 years.

Courtesy photo
Lois Snead blows out the candles on her 95th birthday cake.

Having raised her five children — Rayner Jr., Dana, Sam, Bill, and Libby here in Rappahannock County — she now boasts 14 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren. Lois is the widow of Judge Rayner Snead, a native son of Gid Brown Hollow.

The young couple met in 1940 when Rayner was assigned to the staff of a military school in Missouri to teach motor machinists. They married in 1941 when Lois, as a new bride, headed east with her husband and set up home in his native Rappahannock.

Soon after, husband Rayner was deployed overseas by the U.S. Navy, and on the same day that Rayner caught sight of the Rock of Gibraltar on July 10, 1942, Lois gave birth to their first child. For most of her 77 years in Rappahannock, Lois has lived in the town of Washington, most notably at Fairlea Farm.

Born and raised in Independence, Mo., Lois was a contemporary and casual friend of first daughter Margaret Truman. Lois remembers with a chuckle that as teenagers, a certain young man was spending time on her family’s front porch, when he suddenly moved to the front porch of the Truman home.

Apparently the fickle suitor had ambitions to enter West Point, and at the time, Margaret Truman’s father was a U.S. senator who could make the appointment. Along with two other girls, Lois was the first female admitted to the School of Agriculture at the University of Missouri. The outbreak of the Second World War abruptly halted the degree course, because all the male students left for the military and so the engineering and agricultural courses were suspended.

Blessed with high intelligence, wit, wisdom, a “can-do” attitude, and a positive outlook, Snead has been a lifelong contributor to the Rappahannock community. She was a co-founder of the grand Rappahannock autumnal tradition, now in its 62nd year, of the annual House Tour and Dried Flower Sale. Lois reports that every year the flowers used up a lot of her time, as she planted, grew, and harvested the flowers, then she dried them, and finally arranged them. Her giftedness and output with the dried flowers was unparalleled, and notably, she celebrated her 80th year by making 80 dried flower arrangements.

A stalwart of Trinity Episcopal Church during more than seven decades, Lois has done it all — sung in the choir, served on the vestry, altar guilds, flower guilds, the churchwomen groups, and she spearheaded fund raising for the Parish Hall and at least two organs. Lois says that when she looks at an organ, she sees nothing but stacks and stacks of pies. To raise money, she and the churchwomen baked the pies, sold some of them, but mostly they bought back the pies themselves, then made their families eat them.

At well over 90, Snead was a pivotal member of the search committee which chose and called Trinity’s current rector, the Rev. Miller Hunter. Just a few months ago, Lois conducted a forum during which she enthralled an audience of 60 people with her reminiscences of the history of the church and amusing descriptions of the foibles of its pastors during the last seventy plus years.

If you visit the Book Barn, no doubt you have met Lois and her current dog, Itty Bitty. Lois continues to volunteer there most Saturday mornings. Lois instigated getting the barn built, because she says, she got tired of lugging the books back and forth from the library.

Courtesy photo
Surrounding Lois Snead for her birthday celebration are Doug and Margaret Baumgardner, Miller and Carol Hunter, Noel and Charlotte Laing, Walt and Susan Longyear, Jeannie McNear, Nancy and Chuck Weitz, Helen Williams, and Ewen and Kay Wilson.

The early studies and love of agriculture were soon revisited. For many years, Lois had a flock of 300 sheep, which she raised on three different farms, and her own apple orchard. She is an expert in sheep and apples. Sheep shearing was a necessity, so the wool was sold to pay for the sheep, and the lambs, for their meat and the profit.

Lois used to grade the apples herself with a hand cranked grader, because, she explained, if one had 40 boxes of apples for sale, and just a couple of too-small apples were discovered in one box, the entire consignment of 40 boxes would be rejected.

Husband Rayner encouraged his wife to go ahead if she wished to be a farmer, but insisted that she do so independently because he had worked too hard to escape the hardscrabble life of farming up the Hollow. Instead, Rayner set up a law practice, and later became the renowned judge of Rappahannock County. Lois remembers the early years of helping her husband with his law practice, when often she would be typing the dockets while rocking the baby in its cradle underneath with her foot.

Asked to describe a couple of changes in Rappahannock that she has observed during her years of living here, Lois regretted that people don’t seem to trust others or be able to depend on their neighbors as in the old days. As an example, she said it used to be that anybody could walk across others’ land, and the owners couldn’t care less. Nowadays, Lois observes “No Trespassing” signs posted all around the county. Yesteryear, there were few retirees or people from the city who moved to Rappahannock, which might explain the change.

But Lois reiterated that she likes to look for the positive. A wonderful big change that she cited is the volunteerism that now exists in Rappahannock. “The fact that people care so much for others never ceases to amaze me.”

What is the secret of this remarkable woman who continues to learn (she recently completed a four year course in Theology) to serve others, and to be independent?

It might be her indubitably strong faith, it might be the regular servings of bacon she enjoys for breakfast, or perhaps the weekly games of highly competitive bridge which she plays with friends.

Last week, a few of those legions of friends and admirers accompanied her over the mountain to Luray for a birthday lunch. Rev. Hunter gave both the blessing and a moving tribute to Lois, which was followed by a delectable Mimslyn Inn meal, laughter, camaraderie, and gratitude.

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